Group running track in Timonium sends mixed slots message

Some legislators confused on what fair officials want

April 01, 2003|By Greg Garland | Greg Garland,SUN STAFF

A nonprofit group that runs Timonium racetrack at the Maryland State Fairgrounds continued to send mixed messages yesterday about whether it is trying to get slot machines.

"We're pursuing slots, yes," said William F.C. Marlow Jr., the State Fair's attorney and a member of the nonprofit group's 31-member board of directors.

Asked about Marlow's comment, State Fair President Howard J. Mosner Jr. responded: "That's not what I'm saying."

Mosner said that all he wants is the original deal made with the Ehrlich administration and racing industry representatives - although the fair would like to have slots if state officials see fit to put them there.

Officials with the Maryland State Fair and Agricultural Society Inc. say that they were promised $12 million a year of slots revenues from three other tracks - Pimlico, Laurel Park and Rosecroft - and a fourth planned for Allegany County. In exchange, fair officials agreed not to press for slots there.

But that funding was eliminated in the Senate's version of slots legislation. The move angered fair officials, who have since given conflicting statements about their objectives.

Any effort to put slots at the fairgrounds seems certain to face long odds. State legislators, key county officials and neighborhood groups in the greater Timonium area say they are staunchly opposed.

"They may want slots, but the community doesn't want slots, I don't want slots and the three Republican delegates I serve with don't want slots," said state Sen. James Brochin, a Baltimore County Democrat. "I'm going to do everything in my power to see that slots never come to Timonium."

Mosner said he made it clear to Baltimore County's House delegation at a meeting Friday that he just wants the Ehrlich administration and racing industry representatives to live up to the original agreement.

But since no deal is on the table any longer, other fair officials say they are ready to make a serious bid for slots.

In a letter to key legislators and others dated yesterday, Marlow detailed benefits he said the State Fair and Baltimore County would reap from a modest slots operation there.

"We would be foolish not to seek permission to conduct a slot machine operation at Timonium," he wrote. "The impact $50 million in annual net income would have on agriculture, Baltimore County and the charitable undertakings of the State Fair would be tremendous."

He also said the fair's board has a "fiduciary responsibility" to seek slots because of the revenue they could bring in.

In addition to Marlow's letter, the fair's lobbyist has distributed a fact sheet to legislators.

Del. William J. Frank, a Baltimore County Republican, said he and other legislators felt they got "mixed messages" from fair officials at Friday's meeting.

"On the one hand, they say they would like the [$12 million] put back in," Frank said. "On the other hand, they say they really want slots. To me, they haven't been very clear. I just wish they'd tell us exactly what they want."

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